Woodbridge Strikers' forward Julian Uccello has certainly made an impression as a confident finisher and a leader on the pitch during this League1 season, not least as he led his side in a comeback against Toronto FC Academy on September 17th, and then in his two goal match vs. Azzurri on September 21st.
“These were two tough matches, especially against the quality in the rosters of TFCA and Vaughan,” said Uccello. “We wanted TFCA to have to work for the win, and our team was very disciplined in our approach to that gameplan. With them having a younger squad, and perhaps less experience than we have, we really wanted to focus on beating them on the field. When you have a younger squad as opponents, you have to basically show them who is boss on the field. At the end of the day, it was a tough and at times chippy match, but I think the draw was a fair result.”
“When we went to Vaughan, it was with the same perspective. We have always had a rivalry with Vaughan, and to come out with a win was a better result because of the rivalry. It was definitely fun to play in it, and it reminded me of when I was a kid and we used to have those local derbies – it was a war on the field. It's a strong rivalry, like any local derby, and it will exist as long as there is Ontario soccer. A lot of people don't understand how important some of these rivalries are to the players, coaches, clubs.”
Of course, for those that know his playing history, Uccello's experience with big local derbies goes as far as the highest level in the game.
A Woodbridge product, Uccello had the hunger to play professionally from a young age, but few Canadian players could dream of playing where Uccello went. Given the opportunity to trial professionally in Italy after being seen by a Lazio coach at the Woodbridge showcase, Uccello went overseas at sixteen. He ended up being there for eleven years.
“I went to Italy but Lazio wasn't in training at that time of year, so I was sent to AC Milan for training, and after the second day there AC Milan signed me,” recalled Uccello. “I was signed on a three year contract, and after the first year with the youth squad I was sent on loan to fourth division club AC Sansovino, where I was the top goalscorer in the division. After that, I was bought by Serie B team FC Crotone and put on loan to another third division team, [Bellaria] where I played for a year. I then went back to the Serie B club FC Crotone, and went on loan again before finally being signed for three years at FC Crotone.”
“It was a very typical experience of big clubs buying you and putting you on loan to learn, get your minutes in, and get used to the level of play,” said Uccello. “Until that one day came at FC Crotone after the pre-season, when they said we're keeping you here in the Serie B, and that was it. Everything was perfect.”
Returning to Canada a year and half ago, Uccello is pursuing another of his childhood dreams – playing professionally in his hometown with TFC. Younger brothers, Luca and Michael, are already TFCA players.
“Getting in with Toronto FC is my main goal,” he reveals. “It's my hometown, I've always wanted to play here, and especially while playing in Europe I always hoped I would get that shot with the first team. Until then, League1 is the highest level in this province, and I will play here and for Woodbridge to show what I can do. I've reached the second highest level in Europe and I'm not going to stop. Why would I?”
As a full-fledged professional for many years in Italy, Uccello knows well the sacrifices players, coaches and clubs make in the pursuit of their dreams, and points to personal focus as the one attribute he would recommend to others.
“When I was young, I treated soccer as my life. I had the will, and the heart, to train for it every day. In regards to my brothers at TFCA, I do it and did it all for them. There's not two people more in this world that I wish the most happiness for in this sport, because some of the great things I have experienced I know now they will experience as well. They are becoming top prospects for TFC, and that makes me happy, as well as knowing that I gave them the hope that it can be done.”
“There are a lot of players that think it can't be done," concluded Uccello, "but if you put your mindset to something - anything in this world can be done. The mind is truly the most powerful thing."